BUFFALO, NY - Lawyers for Pinnacle Charter School will file papers in State Supreme Court on Wednesday requesting a temporary restraining order which would allow the K-8th grade school to open as planned on September 4.
According to a press release sent from a public relations firm working for the school:
The 11th hour legal effort follows a meeting with representatives of the New York State Education Department on Monday and efforts by Pinnacle's legal team to negotiate with them. Monday night, the state communicated its refusal to budge on its decision to block the school from operating in 2013-14 school year.
"We will ask for a TRO that permits the school to open as planned while the legal rights of the students, parents and school are determined," said Lisa Coppola, of Rupp, Baase, Pfalzgraf, Cunningham & Coppola LLC, Pinnacle's lead attorney in the school's battle to renew its charter.
It is not known how quickly a judge will review the request and make a ruling. There typically are no oral arguments on a TRO request.
Meanwhile, Pinnacle's staff is helping parents fill out Buffalo Public Schools forms requesting their children be transferred to a school "in good standing," in case Pinnacle is forced to close. Ninety-eight of those forms were delivered to Buffalo Public Schools administrative offices on Monday, and another 92 were delivered Tuesday.
"Parents filled out forms at Sunday evening's family information meeting and they have continued to come in yesterday and today. We remain hopeful we'll be able to start school next week with no disruption for our students and their families, but we have to face the realities," said Linda Marszalek, the school's Chief Academic Officer.
The school's enrollment for the 2013-14 school year stands at 554, with a waiting list.
Pinnacle teachers and staff are continuing their five day orientation and preparation which began Monday. If the court grants the TRO, students will drop off their school supplies on September 3 and start classes on September 4.
State education department officials notified the school at 5 p.m. August 23 of their intention to close the school and sent representatives to Buffalo on August 26 to meet with Pinnacle and begin working with Buffalo Public Schools to develop transfer plans.
Pinnacle's closing would come at a time when more than 2,000 Buffalo Public Schools students have requested to be transferred from failing schools for the 2013-14 school year, and the district has admitted it can only accommodate 350 of those requests.
The latest turn of events is tied to a legal battle that dates back to an April 2012 vote by the New York State Board of Regents not to renew Pinnacle's charter for the 2012-13 school year due to a downturn in scores on state-mandated proficiency tests.
The school has remained in operation under a ruling by State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek barring closure of the school as Pinnacle lawyers fought the Regents' decision.
The press release did not mention that a ruling in favor of the state by the state's highest court (the New York State Court of Appeals) which exhausted Pinnacle's previous legal claim, was not issued until August 22nd.
In a statement emailed to WGRZ-TV Tuesday evening, State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said:
The decision to close the Pinnacle Charter School was made in March, 2012 -- nearly 18 months ago. However, it appears that, despite this lengthy time frame, parents were only recently made aware of the possible outcomes to the lawsuit. The Education Department has a team in Buffalo working with both the City School District and the Pinnacle School administration to examine options for all of the effected children. We are seeking the least disruptive transition to the very best possible educational settings available for all of the children involved.
"Our backs are up against the wall," said Tanisha Chambers, the parent of a seven year old daughter who had been attending Pinnacle.
Chambers, instead of attending her college courses to become a nurse, spent Tuesday filling out applications trying to place her daughter in a new school by next week. She was hand delivering them to each the six schools she's filled out applications for in hopes of increasing her chances, which are admittedly slim.
"A lot of these schools that I'm looking to put my daughter in have lotteries , and the lottery had came and gone in the beginning of the year," she said.
Pinnacle's lawyer Lisa Coppola declined comment on the papers she will file, however while visiting the school today, Channel 2 News noticed parents being encouraged to sign affidavits which could be presented as part of the case.
Among other things, the signed affidavits state: "It is against my will for my child to be transferred out of Pinnacle, but if that occurs I expect and demand that my child be placed in a (Buffalo Public) school in good standing."
Because Buffalo schools already have a waiting list of more than 1,500 of their own students making similar requests (which they can't accommodate) that would seem a near impossibility...
and could be a primary argument used to try and sway a judge to order the school to stay open, lest children be sent to surrounding schools who grade out even poorer than the one they're being forced to leave.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bob Mancuso. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2